Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A familiar Biblical phrase to which many non Christians cling is this: God is love, from 1 John 4.16. We might not know that the verses leading up to this simple statement are rich.

   The chapter begins with the theme of the Spirit of God. John says test the spirits to see if they are from God. Among other things this implies that only one spirit comes to us from God, the Holy Spirit; He is sent as God to us. Any spirit must confess the Son, that Jesus has come from the Father, 1 John 4.2. And that's because only a spirit from God could do this. That's how we know to trust the spirit. Only the Spirit of God has experienced both the Son and the Father.
   John says that we are from God, agreeing with Ephesians 1.4, and that God is in us, Ephesians 1.14. The spirits which are not from God are, from the world, 1 John 4.5, John 15.19. John says anyone with the Spirit living within them will listen to the apostles because the spirit of truth is in them, 1 John 4.6.

   So we can see from the first 6 verses that the Spirit of God has come to us, He lives in our souls, and that He only can be trusted because He came from God, He did not come from the world. He witnesses to Jesus as the Son of God.

Now if the spirit of truth is in us, John says, let us love one another, for love is from God, 1 John 4.7, John 15.17. How do we know love is from God? Because of what God did, sending His Son. In the act of doing, love came forth, it was manifested. We know God loves us because He made Himself real to us in His Son. So if God has loved us, we should love one another. Notice John does not say return God's love to God--he says pass it on to one another. In the process of loving one another, God's Spirit will become apparent in us and among us.

   This means, among other things, that the Spirit of God is His love.

   Now we come to 1 John verse 12, a verse loaded with richness.
   First John says, no one has beheld God at any time... So how would God ever be seen? John says He can be seen in us by others whom we love, if we love one another... This is because God abides in us, as He did in the tabernacle, and, His love is perfected in us. But how do we know that He abides in us, as we are loving one another? John's answer is, By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit, 4.13. There is the same thought, the Holy Spirit is God's love for us.

   John saw and came to know not just that Jesus was the savior of the world, but that the Father sent Him. It is this confession that the Father has sent the Son to be the savior of the world which makes every follower a believer, 1 John 4.14. In other words, to be the Son is to be begotten of the Father and sent into the world. When we know this, we have God.
Those who are of the world, who do not confess that Jesus is the Son of God sent into the world by the Father, do not abide in the love of God. They can say, God is love, but the Holy Spirit will not abide in them if they do not confess that Jesus came from the Father as the Son of God. Verse 15 says it: Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him and he in God.


Having said that only the spirit who confesses that Jesus is from the Father sent to us is true, and that we should love one another, how can we love in the perfection of the Holy Spirit?

   First John says if God's Spirit is abiding in us,, God is abiding in us. As He is perfect, so His Spirit in us will be. Abiding is dwelling but it is not inert. We will experience the progress of the soul as we are in God. We will have no fear in love because perfect love casts out fear. This comes through experiencing God. When we receive the love which is from God, we will have no fear of judgment day, 4.17.
   Second, this perfect love from God is also for today. John uses the example of loving our brother. We might recall the last phrase of Matthew 23.8: you are all brothers. Jesus had said to forgive your brother endlessly, Matt. 18.21, and if you have anything against your brother, be reconciled to him, Matt. 5.22, and don't be a hypocrite about your btother's sin, Matt. 7.4. So here, John says if you can't love your brother who stands in front of you, how can you love God whom you can't see,  1 John 4.20.

   When we receive His Spirit, when we confess that Jesus is the Son of God coming to us, when we love one another as He has loved us, then the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts, one for another.

   If you want to jump and shout, Halleleuiah, go ahead.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


Worship is the allegiance between the human soul and God. But what does our soul look like?

   The OT tabernacle was given as the meeting of the individual and God. The glory of God was there for the individual soul to approach with a sacrifice. When the sacrifice was accepted, the individual soul was cleansed and purified, restored to God, having entered His presence. In the tabernacle we see God coming to Israel so that Israel could come to God.
Moses went up to the mountain to receive the directions for this tabernacle, by which God could be in Israel's midst. Now in the NT in 2 Corinthians 5.1 Paul says, if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. So the tabernacle represents our soul in its' resemblance to God in heaven, as a meeting of God and us. Peter says in 2 Peter 1.14, I must lay aside this my earthly tabernacle... and John says in Revelation 21.3, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men and He will dwell with them.

   The purpose of the tabernacle in the midst of Israel was so that the Jews would be conformed to the image of God. This was a sacrifice, it was a ceremony, it was a proclamation by the priest, in other words it was their worship.

   But in the NT, this tabernacle through which we are conformed to God is for everyone who believes by faith. Our tabernacle now is Jesus.
He existed in the form of God and emptied Himself to be made in the likeness of men, Philippians 2.6, coming to us. We exist in the likeness of God in order to meet God in the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, Titus 3.5. Instead of animals, when we present our bodies as a living sacrtifice, holy and acceptable to Him, we are transformed by the renewing of our minds that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect, Romans 12.1, 2. This will of God which is good and acceptable and perfect is the life Jesus lived, it is His ministry that we receive and do.

   All of this is to prepare our souls to receive Him, as the tabernacle of our soul, our life, our hope.


This tabernacle has three qualities of worship.

   The first one is the meeting of past and future in the present.
Many Biblical passages exemplifie this. When John wrote about the Jesus he knew, he began with, In the beginning was the Word...and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory... John the Baptist said, He existed before me, John 1.15. When we contemplate the Biblical passages about God in the past, He comes to us in worship. This is quite evident in Hebrews 1.1, 2, God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. What was long ago has come today. No time or place could reveal the 'now' aspect of the Ancient of Days than communion. However, we must open our souls by faith to these things. Do we believe that the God who made the world is now with us? This question is the essence of worship as an asking God to come. We say we approach God, but it is rather that God approaches us.

   The second quality of worship is recognition.

   In John 4 Jesus says the Father is looking for those who worship in spirit and truth. To worship in spirit is to have the Spirit of God within the soul so that we can recognize Him. When the Wise Men came to Jesus in Matt. 2.11, they fell down recognizing Him. The disciples follow Jesus at the slightest prompting as they recognize Him. James and John left their boat immediately to follow Him. A leper worshiped Jesus, calling Him Lord in Matt. 8.2. A Roman ruler knew Jesus could heal his servant immediately, Matt. 9.18. They all saw in their own soul who Jesus was, recognizing Him. His Spirit was in them. This Spirit will be given to the disciples and to allof us, John 17.8. When Jesus fills our souls as He filled the temple in Isiaiah 6.1, worship will break out.

   The third quality of worship is hope.
When we bring our hopes to worship, we open ourselves to God as the God of love. Places where hopes have been spoken, felt, prayed, lifted up to God are spiritual places. They may be a small chapel or a wide cathedral. What is common to all is the belief that our hopes go to Jesus, as the author and finisher of our faith. Our hopes can be emotional, rational, detailed, personal or worldly. Our hopes ascend like a winding stair, upward, as we lift Him up. The perfect Biblical example is Matthew 8.5, the centurion's daughter. Jesus is willing to come to the centurion's home, but the centurion says, just say the word and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority; with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, 'Go' and he goes and to another, 'Come,' and he comes and to my slave, 'Do this' and he does it.'

   What is being said here is a relationship from God above to us, from we in our need up to God in His majesty. The centurion knows that Jesus has ministering angels under Him who come when He calls, who do what He commands. Paul tells the Ephesians that, all things have been put in subjection under Christ's feet, above rule and authority and power and dominion. The centurion prayed, the angels brought the prayer up to heaven to Christ, who answers every prayer.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


One of the passages in the Bible which reads cryptically is John 21.15-17, the passage in which Jesus asks Peter three times about his love and tells him three times to feed His sheep.

When John records that Jesus had to say these things 3 times, there has to be more to it than repeating what He said. Jesus always had a way of answering what people need, not what they ask. So maybe we can look a bit further into the Greek words used by John to see something more.

In John 18.25 Peter denies three times that he knew Jesus. Under Jewish common law, denying three times meant that a contract could be voided. So here in John 21 Jesus restores Peter to the covenant with God by asking him 3 times, 'Do you love Me?'

Now let's go to the first exchange, 21.15.
We will isolate 4 Greek words, the word for 'love,' agape, the word for respectful love, philew and two words for 'feed,' boskw and poimaine. In this verse Jesus says,

15--Simon, son of John, do you agapas me more than these?

He said to Him, 'Yes, Lord, You know that I philew You.

He said to him, Boskw My lambs.

The word agapas originally meant a welcoming love. It was used in Homer to mean the love between a man and his son. Then much later in classical Greek, 12 times in the Greek translation of the OT it was used for sexual love. By the time of the NT, the gospel writers used it in it's Homeric sense, the distinguished unselfish love with a family between father and son. Jesus is asking Peter if he loves Jesus intensly, even more than Peter might love his fellow man, the other disciples, or anyone. This is Peter's moment to tell Jesus He loves the Master more than anyone, more than life itself; in this regard the question is Peter's Abraham and Isaac moment. Abraham had to show he loved God more than his own son, and Peter is being asked much the same thing.

Peter does not use the word, agapas, he uses filew, an impersonal and less intense word. When Jesus says, Feed My sheep, using boskw, Jesus is using the conventional word for a shepherd feeding lambs. Boskw originally meant a field of grass and fruit trees. Jesus is saying if Peter must love Jesus intensly, before he can feed the flock as any laboring shepherd would. The follower as a laborer in the field is used in 2 Cor. 6.1 and Colossians 4.11.

But this will not be enough for Peter with Jesus.

The second exchange seems like a repetition but it is not.
16--He said to him a second time, Simon, son of John, do you agapas Me?

He said to Him, Yes, Lord, You know that I philew You.

He said to him, poimaine My sheep.

Jesus and Peter repeat their two words for 'love,' but now Jesus uses another word for 'feeding'. This is the word poimaine, meaning to feed one's own sheep, to care for their needs. What Jesus is saying is that Peter is to take his own love of Jesus and give that love to the sheep, to fellow believers. He is telling Peter to turn from loving Jesus to loving the sheep. Homer uses two forms of this word for 'shepherd and for 'flock', thus indicating the intimate connection between a shepherd and his own flock. It is from this connection of shepherd and flock that we get the expression, to shepherd a church.

When we notice that Peter has not changed his word, filew, this indicates that the flock is not Peter's possession but his care. It is his own to served. Peter seems to have understood this, as in 1 Peter 5.1 he calls himself a 'fellow-elder,' not the chief or the owner but a servant among servants.

Now for the third episode.
17--He said to him a third time, Simon, son of John, do you phileis Me?

Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, Do you phileis Me?

And he said to Him, Lord You know all things; You know that I philew You.

Jesus said to him, Boske My lambs.

Here Jesus does not use agapas, but phileis. He is asking Peter if he truly has turned from depending on Jesus to serving the flock of believers. That Peter uses filew indicates that Peter understands this is the real question. Is Peter ready to leave the fishing and his home behind to serve those he does not personally know, for the cause of Christ? By using filew but not agapas, Peter says he is ready. Now Jesus rewards him by saying, boske, feed the flock as a good shepherd would. It is not Peter's flock, the sheep belong to Jesus.

At last Peter is restored.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Have you ever noticed the churches which have a spirituality abiding in them?  Or places where Christians have prayed, which have a spirituality on them?  They don't seem to be the rule among churches, but the exception.  Why is that?  What makes certain places spiritual but not others?

  Well, I imagine many answers could be given which are not answers but reactions.  We might say certain churches are so focused on social works that they never contemplate the presence of God in their midst.  Social justice is certainly a large part of the kingdom of God, but when such work emaciates other aspects of the kingdom of God then we have a ministry not a church.
  This is true of an evangelical emphasis on knowing God's Word to the exclusion of belief in the Sacrament and a sacramental emphasis on how precisely the priest performs the Eucharist to the exclusion of the sermon.

  But then, when we step into a prayer chapel or certain churches, we immediately become aware of the Spirit of God.  These places are not always know for their social works or great budgets or numbers of missionaries they support or even their reputation in the neighborhood.  So what do they have?

  First, let's turn to a familiar verse, which has a phrase we all know:
  Again I say to you, that if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.  For when two or three are gathered in My Name, there am I in their midst of them, Matt. 18.19, 20.

  Here we have the promise that if two or more are gathered, the Son and the Father are there with them.  This can only be said through the blessing of the Spirit, which is what we notice in certain places where Christians worship.
  What this means is that what makes a place spiritual is when the people believe in the miracle that the Father and Sn are there with them.  This miracle can mean that the people believe God is with them in the Sacrament, the Word preached, or the works of the Spirit.  The tradition to which one belongs has no special hold, it's the belief in the miracle that God is here, which is the presence of the Spirit we notice.

  Once I was in a Baptist church in which the Sunday School classes were studying John 17.  After those classes, we all went to worship in the sanctuary.  I've never experienced such worship, such holiness in a Baptist church.  They aren't known for their emphasis on liturgy, so why was it so holy?  I think it was because the wonderful people there really did believe in what John 17 said.  God came down because their belief went up.

  The second reason for holiness in a certain places is the wishes and hopes and prayers of the people.  Wherever the hopes of the people are taken up, that place is special.  When the Spirit of God moves on a group of those praying to seek what God is giving, then those  hopes and prayers sanctify a place.  By that I mean not just that hopes and prayers cleanse a place but that those hopes and prayers remain there. 

  We can easily imagine a sports arena where the fans have hoped for a championship for years--their hopes and wishes remain in that place.  These places feel different than a hotel lobby or a bank.  When saints have prayed in such earnest in a place that God answers them, that place will have the atmosphere that God is there.  God seems to excavate a place for Himself in us and in our churches so that we enter into Him.
  This is the miracle of His presence.  We might become aware of Him through the Sacrament, through praying, through gathering with one mind, through serving one another, but He is there in us and for us and around us.  We abide in Him through our prayers, He abides in us through His Word, His Sacraments, His Spirit.

  The church is certainly not infallible, but it is the miracle of Christ among us.

  What this means is, our hopes and prayers sanctify a place, they dedicate a place unto God.  While we have our ceremonies of dedication, they are no more than asking God to come.  It is our prayers and hopes in the Spirit which draw Him and bring us into Him.   The United States was founded by those who had prayed for many years, they had hoped for religious freedom for generations.  So when they stepped upon these shores, all their hopes and dreams had been realized in this land.  God blessed America.

  When I was a boy I watched Oral Roberts in his crusades.  While his theology might be objectionable, the environment of faith was overwhelming and obvious.  He created the atmosphere in which people believed God.  The level of spiritual desire was unusually high, coming after WWII.  The people had almost nothing materially; Oral had great faith; God moved among them under the tent.
  Today many churches promote many things. 
  Do you believe God is in your midst?
  In Him was life and the life was the light of men, John 1.4.